New Wheaties box tribute to Darrell Waltrip

By Marvin Birchfield

STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   The unveiling of the tribute to racing champions on the Wheaties box was displayed on Friday, as legend Darrell Waltrip was honored for the remnants of his career, which dated back 30 years ago.
   What better place to make the announcement than Bristol, for there has been no other driver to accomplish what Darrell has at BMS.
   Making his first appearance in 1973, Waltrip learned a lesson of how demanding Bristol really is, as it took just a few laps before Darrell decided someone else needed to relieve him in driving.
   "This is a place where you have to eat your Wheaties. If you don't then you might be laying out on the ground somewhere afterwards," said Waltrip.
   Darrell says he first came to Bristol using the same kind of seat as he did in his Busch car, and his car owner Jake Elder let him know right away that he wasn't going to be able to finish the event.
   "Jake looked at the seat and said, 'boy you won't make 50 laps,' and I laughed at him and said, 'Man you don't know what you're talking about. I've ran as many as 200 laps with it before,'" recalled Waltrip.
   Back in those days when you needed someone else to take over because of fatigue or whatever reason it may be, the sign was to give a tap on your helmet.
   "I started the race and the signal that you needed a relief driver was hitting on you're helmet, and in 22 laps I started hitting on my helmet," said Waltrip.
   It was the only other time that Darrell needed relief, except for when he was hurt, because on that particular day the seat he had selected to use was cutting right into his rib area.
   "Dick Brooks got in it, and he ran only about 50 laps. It was a little fiberglass seat with no padding, and it was just cutting you're sides wide open," said Waltrip.
   This didn't detour Darrell from figuring out the mental and physical toughness it takes to get around Bristol, which gave him a decisive advantage over the rest of the competitors.
   "I turned the radio on and was listening to Cale Yarborough say, 'I wish they would fill the thing up with water and put fish in it,'" said Waltrip.
   Darrell said, he turned to another station and heard Richard Petty whining also about the fact that he had to have more relief drivers at Bristol than anywhere.
   "I said to myself right then, you know what this is an opportunity, and if I go in there with the right attitude that I love this place, and I can run 500 laps and wear these guys out, I think I can do it," said Waltrip.
   Darrell has always ran great at Bristol through his career, and he say if his wife Stevie would let him, he would run his truck when they come here in the fall.
   "Salem and Winchester, Indiana were like this place, and Nashville was similar and even a little more high-banked, so I had a lot of practice before I ever got here," said Waltrip.
   It's important that we don't forget where the sport originated, and the pioneers of racing built NASCAR's tradition.
   So for DW who busted on the scene in the modern era, it is a great tribute to honor this athlete for what he has accomplished in his 29-year career.
   "Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Richard Petty, you can walk by all those guys and they'll talk to you, for they are the guys who built this platform for us to grow on," said Waltrip.
   The sport has changed so much in the modern era, and even so in the past 10 years, for when Darrell was at the top, it was because he knew how to wrestle his car around.
   "We didn't even know what power-steering or aerodynamics was back then. You man-handled your car, and it was who had the biggest heart was the guy that won," said Waltrip.
   Many times Darrell had what it took to become the ruler at Bristol. Not only is he the most winningest driver at BMS with 12 victories, but he did it by rolling off seven straight wins in a roll to tie Petty as the most consecutive win at one track.
   His most memorable moment at Bristol although was when he was trying to capture his eighth straight victory, but fell just short due to mechanical failure.
   "When going for our eighth win in a row, it was going to be our easiest one of the seven for we had a lap on the whole field, and then we broke a rear-end housing with 100 laps left," said Waltrip.
   Waltrip is definitely a champion that will be remembered throughout NASCAR's history, and who better else than Darrell to represent his sport on the front of a Wheaties box, which has featured other the top athletes like Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, or Tiger Woods.
   "If you don't think a race car driver is an athlete, then get in your car Sunday and put on some gloves and a helmet, then drive around with the heater on and the radio wide-open for three and a half hours while we do this show," said Waltrip.
   "See if you don't need some oxygen afterwards or possibly a relief driver. The guys who are able to do this are extraordinary."